Show menu
Shooting People
 
Search
By continuing to browse this website you are agreeing to allow us to use cookies

Post in your Q's for Head of BFI Film Fund Ben Roberts

Hi Everyone,

Ben Roberts, head of the BFI's film fund, is judging this month's Film of the Month competition. You can post in any questions you might have for him here, he's got a long history in film financing and distribution so make the most of this opportunity to pick his, very experienced, brain.
The film fund has a budget of £26 million in 2013. He is responsible for overseeing the BFI’s Lottery investments in film development, production and distribution, and leading the BFI’s international activities.

If you'd like a shot at getting your film to the top of the leaderboard this month and in front of Ben just upload it to your SP profile and it will be entered.

Best of luck,
Stephanie
SP

  • Hi Stephanie

    I wasn't exactly sure where to post Questions for Ben Roberts to, so I hope responding to this thread will get through. My question below:

    I recently attended the Lux / Flamin / Film London conference on Artists Film and Video in the Cinema, which by the way was excellent and really interesting and inspiring. It seems to me that the usual way artist filmmakers operate is a boom and bust cycle: somehow you manage to get funding for a project, you immerse yourself into it totally, manage to complete a film without making too much (if any) money for yourself and find yourself on the edge of an abyss at the end - you have had no time to try and get funding for the next project, not to mention to develop your next project properly; your money will very soon come to its end; you have not been able to invest in career building assets such as new kit, software etc; you have not been able to put any money into your ISA / savings account / pension fund. How can we create a funding structure that allows artist film and video makers to get away from this "struggling artist in eternity" fate? Is there a role for the BFI to play, or even take the lead?

    Thanks for your thoughts,

    Kathrein

    4 years ago
    • The artist film & video community has been overlooked in recent years and we have been discussing a funding provision for development support within the Film Fund. I’m quite keen on doing this and it’s an area of crossover filmmaking with which the BFI has a history dating back to the Experimental Fund. So expect some news on that in the New Year.
      Still, that doesn’t entirely answer your (rather difficult) question and I’m not sure I can help to wrangle the issue of self-sufficiency in an area which is not economically fruitful unless the filmmaker has garnered sufficient repute.
      Regardless of the area in which you are working, we do have a couple of strategies to help some filmmakers to become more self-sufficient: if you receive a development award from us, and your film gets made, then any development monies from us are recycled to the recipient for use on future projects. We also run our Vision Awards once every two years for production companies to develop their projects and businesses over two without much interference from us.
      As always, there isn’t enough Lottery money to go around.

      4 years ago
  • HI Ben,

    What provisions do you have in place to address the dominance of male directors? I know so many brilliant female filmmakers, and yet they're still often woefully under-represented in the industry - in some of this year's LFF shorts programmes, for example. What are the key things for you that will really move towards addressing this imbalance?

    4 years ago
    • We don’t have any provisions as such but we are very mindful of it and we do have a target to improve matters. In the past year I think around a third of the films we supported were directed by women which is above the norm but still not enough. You can read through them on our online awards list. Our team is predominantly female so it is a frequent topic of conversation. Interestingly around half of the films we supported last year were produced by women, which is a positive.

      4 years ago
  • Hi Ben

    The industry constantly claims that there aren't enough decent screenplays out there, and here at the West Midlands Screenwriters' Forum we're constantly bemoaning the lack of any training/continuing professional development aimed at professional screenwriters. What little there is seems to be at a beginners' level. So does the BFI Film Fund see this as an area of concern, and, if so, are there any plans to address it?

    4 years ago
    • The Film Fund doesn’t have a training budget, and all our funding is for the development and production of projects. That said, now that our ‘beginner’s level’ development is being run through the NET.WORK, we think it will free up our editorial team to provide more hands-on support for more experienced writers. We have a small team but when we have the time to work closely with writers I think it can really pay off. But that support will only ever be for the projects we are supporting with a development or production award. This might be a conversation to have with Skillset.

      4 years ago
  • Hello Ben,

    Do you feel that enough creative risks are being taken by British filmmakers? Do you think that funding bodies such as the BFI play it safe when backing certain films, and how do you think this is going to affect the potential diversity in our national cinema?

    4 years ago
    • I hope we don’t play it safe, I’m always calling for greater risk-taking. Riskier filmmaking is one of the key areas where we should be focussing Lottery money. At the moment I think there is a new upswing in risk-taking, and I would like to think that this will have a knock-on effect. But I’m sure we could take even greater risks, for sure. Some of our decisions I think might look safe in hindsight but carried degrees of risk in the filmmaking or approach. As an organisation with a cultural agenda, you have to be comfortable with ‘failure’ and I have to say I think the BFI lottery committee is very comfortable with the prospect of failure in exchange for greater creative risks. Of course some people don’t think we take risks at all..

      4 years ago
  • Is there any advice you can give to filmmakers (particularly documentary makers) that struggle with public pitches? Can you see through a nervous pitch to a brilliant film? Or is it better for directors who are bad public speakers to find someone else to put their vision across when it comes to public forums?

    4 years ago
    • As part of our documentary pitches we do offer a day’s pitch training which we received mostly positive feedback on following the June session at Doc/Fest, particularly form those how had not done it before. The December session is not linked to a festival or event and therefore will happen in camera with a panel but no audience. First feature teams also have to come and discuss with a panel of ‘us’ and some are clearly less comfortable than others. But I hope that in all instances we can see beyond any obvious nerves to identify the strongest projects. We hope that teams will present, so if your producer is more comfortable, let them do the heavy lifting, or let your reel do the talking.

      4 years ago
  • What key elements do you look out for in a director's short film or TV work when considering whether they have the potential to make a feature which the BFI would be interested in being involved with?

    4 years ago
    • Principally we are looking to see some thematic or stylistic links between the short work and the proposed feature. Some sense of continuity or a flow of thought and interests which make sense and stands out. And obviously the short work needs to display strong, distinctive filmmaking instincts.

      4 years ago
  • Your job has traditionally been a thankless task - at least when it comes to the popular press.

    If you fund so-called 'commercial' films then critics say these would have (and should have) been made without public subsidy.

    On the other hand, if you fund 'cultural' films, you get criticized for funding elitist films seen by a tiny number of people which probably won't make any money and have no resonance with the vast majority of people who fund them, ie. people who buy lottery tickets and, indirectly, the taxpayer.

    Where do you stand on this divide? Or is this a false dichotomy and if so what criteria do you apply?

    4 years ago
    • Mark Herbert from Warp recently talked about a middle ground between the art-house and the multiplex, where Ben Wheatley can make Kill List and Shane Meadows can make This Is England. I think a lot of the films we support – and some of the best British filmmaking over the years – falls into that category, but my view has been that if we are supporting between 25 and 30 films a year, there is room for a range. The number one priority is that we think the film is exemplary in its genre/budget range and we have confidence in the filmmaker.

      4 years ago
  • In an answer to a parliamentary question, it was stated that the UK Film Council had only recouped money over and above their initial investment on three films: (from memory) Man on Wire, St Trinians and The King's Speech.

    Is this indicative of the general prospects of UK films or was the UKFC getting a bum deal from its commercial partners?

    If the latter, how will the BFI, as a charity, engage with commercial partners to ensure that its funding isn't simply subsidizing the major and mini-major studios?

    4 years ago
    • The thing to remember is that Lottery money is good cause money, so it should only really be used in instances of market failure. As an investor, we sit in the most benign position in a finance plan, behind any market money or debt financing, so its inevitable that our recoupment position is fairly soft. The good news is that our recoupment targets are softer than they were at the UKFC, which means we are open to making some riskier decisions. Our funding goes to producers of independently financed films, so I can’t think of an instance where we would be subsidizing a studio.

      4 years ago
  • Will the BFI honour the promise made by the UK Film Council, Film4 and BBC Films that the tax credit portion of a film's budget should be assigned as producer's equity?

    4 years ago
    • We already promote the concept and allow it, and have done for several years.

      4 years ago
  • Do you agree with Simon Relph's argument, in his eponymous report of 2002, that the confluence of too much funding coming on tap at the same time leads to an inflation of costs which makes British films less competitive in the international market?

    If so, how does this apply to current market conditions and the the current level of funding allocated to the BFI?

    4 years ago
    • I don’t think anyone would argue that there is too much funding on tap. It is incredible difficult to raise finance for independent films, and we have to turn down approximately 90% of the production applications we receive. The argument might be sound, but its not applicable in the current climate.

      4 years ago
  • Is it wise for the BFI and its funding partners to stipulate that all cast and crew on short films must be paid at least the national minimum wage, but that the core team of directors / writers / producers are explicitly barred from paying themselves?

    How does this help under-represented and marginalised voices to be heard?

    4 years ago
    • On BFI Lottery funded shorts we have never barred directors, producers and writers from receiving a fee from the production budget of the short. If you have an experience to the contrary then please do let me know and I’ll investigate.

      4 years ago
  • Hi Ben,

    How would you assess a director seeking funding for their first feature? Do considerations such as showreel material, film school qualifications and festival accolades figure prominently in the decision as to whether to fund a project or not? Or is a filmmaker's pitch typically more important?

    4 years ago
    • We get asked this a lot and I never have a clear answer. In truth, the projects with the greatest chance of success will be non-derivative, have a very clear and distinctive tone of voice, be supported by a director’s body of work which suggests certain thematic threads or progression which tie in some way directly or indirectly to the feature. It’s good if you have a very clear sense of your relationship to other films and filmmakers, and where you might sit in terms of audience. Since we are being asked to invest Lottery money into your project, our ‘due diligence’ is making ourselves comfortable that you stand a pretty good chance of making a really interesting film.

      4 years ago
  • Hi Ben,

    I'm working on a script that requires the type of budget that the 2012 BFI Lighthouse shorts received. Are there any plans for another high end shorts scheme? Or should I scale back the scripts ambitions?

    Thanks in advance,

    Stuart

    4 years ago
    • Stuart – all our shorts funding is now channeled through the BFI NET.WORK and yes there are opportunities through the NET.WORK for higher budgetted shorts throughout the year. If you are based in England you should speak to Creative England who we are funding to run talent development including shorts funding in England, and they are running two talent centres – in Brighton and Sheffield. There is more info at bfi.org.uk/network

      4 years ago
  • Hi Ben,

    Would the BFI film fund entertain the idea of helping a short get into festivals with submission fee's? I have searched thoroughly for such funding and the closest I found was the short support scheme from the Brittish Council but thats not quite what I need.

    Much love
    Olly

    4 years ago
    • Olly - unfortunately we don’t have any funds for this and as you say the only festival support that we co-fund with the British Council is the shorts support scheme. I will raise it internally and see if this is a common request but at present, I’m afraid the answer is no.

      4 years ago
  • Hi Ben,

    I'm going to be putting together an application for development funding shortly. I'm currently working with two writers (I direct) on two different feature-length projects. On the assumption you prefer one application from a company at any given time; is there a way to find out what projects you've been developing recently to determine which of the above is worth submitting?

    e.g. if the BFI have decided to develop 10 thrillers in the past year there seems little point in sending you another thriller to look at if I also have something in a different genre. Or, would you consider more than one application for development funding from the same company (albeit two different writers / producers)?

    Thanks - Tobias Tobbell

    4 years ago
    • Tobias, the only information we can share with you regarding our development awards is the awards publication list which you can search through on our website. It might not provide you with all the information you need but might allow you to do some homework. However, I wouldn’t spend too much time on that – the strongest work will out regardless of genre. As a director I would not advise seeking development support for two projects at the same time – put your best foot forward.

      4 years ago
  • What is your opinion on Skillset's Skills Investment Fund levy?

    I was on the board of the New Producers Alliance at the time this was first mooted by Iain Smith and I understand there were assurances that it would not be applied to films with a budget under £1 million.

    When the scheme was eventually launched there was no floor on budgets to which it would apply, but there was on a cap on the amount contributed to £39,500, which would only benefit major productions with a budget of £7.9 million or above. In other words, members of the Motion Picture Association (MPA), which represents the major studios, and who were listed as one of the consultees.

    In a real world example, I was having to budget a c. £40 fee for SIF on a £8,000 budget on a short film. Short Films are clearly about training and development and so it's absurd to make them pay out a trifling amount, when actually the Skills Investment Fund should be not only waiving the fee, but sending Skillset funded trainees to work on these films.

    Obviously, working as a superfluous supernumerary observer on Harry Potter etc has it's advantages, but isn't it also a good idea for people to have some proper hands on experience in an environment where you make mistakes and learn?

    4 years ago
    • The argument over the height of the SIF levy ceiling could (and will) run and run but putting that to one side, I think the levy is overall a very good thing. It provides invaluable support for training, and I can’t see any reasonable argument for introducing a floor and reducing the level of contributions. The contributions on low budget films and shorts may be small but many crumbs make a cake, and it familiarises filmmakers with the concept and the requirement (which continues to take a number of producers by surprise)
      In terms of training, as part of our funding we do insist that in addition to the levy, trainees are taken on by the funded production, and we are having conversations with Skillset at the moment about making this as effective as possible, and using it as an opportunity to diversify the range of trainees. So to continue to the cake analogy, we do expect trainees to have their cake and eat it.

      4 years ago
    • @Ben Roberts

      The reasoned argument I would make is that, certainly in the case of the short films, the fund is simply diverting money from one form of training and development to another form. The UKFC funded about 120 films per year and that 0.5% of budget (minus various exempt budget lines) was simply churning money around the system and so you have to wonder whether it was really worth it, simply to educate producers about something they might encounter in the future if they make a feature film. Surely, this is something that can be flagged up if and when they are offered funding for a feature. Frankly, I'm staggered if there are producers funded by the BFI / UKFC who are taken by surprise by the SIF Levy. Who are these producers? Clearly producers who do not read the contracts they sign, in which case I wonder what exactly they are doing to earn the title of 'producer'.

      My other reasoned argument would be the moral case. First, that the consultation that was done by Skillset was extremely shoddy; indeed practically non-existent. I only found out about it because: a) my company was listed in The Knowledge / Kemps and got a letter from Iain Smith which was not consulting at all but presenting the SIF as a fait accompli and b) because I was on the NPA board and hence discovered that the CEO had actually been in talks about it for some time. Many Shooting People members would simply have had no idea that this was happening and were never given the opportunity to express an opinion on what was about to be imposed on them.

      The SIF has been progressively rolled out to apply to films which are not publicly funded. Given the lack of consultation, it's hardly surprising that non publicly-funded producers are surprised, and perhaps shocked, by it.

      Furthermore, while the levy is underpinned by the Industry Training Act 1982, the levy was applied, as I understand it, via a statutory instrument which meant that even if the general body of independent filmmakers had been aware of it, they would have no recourse to due democratic process via their MP to oppose its application to short films or micro-budget films.

      I am not against the Skills Investment Fund; indeed I have been funded by it to attend the excellent Think-Shoot-Distribute course at the London Film Festival, among other things.

      My plea, my reasonable argument, is for a more nuanced, sensible and cost-efficient approach to who has to pay it.


      4 years ago
    • @Ben Roberts

      Or to put it more bluntly:

      Imagine a tax system which applies a flat rate from the first pound you earn to the poorest people, but caps the amount of tax the rich have to pay to £39,500.

      By anyone's reckoning, that's not fair.

      4 years ago
    • Daniel – I spoke to Dan Simmons at Skillset about this. There is no statutory requirement to pay the levy. We (the BFI) and other public funders have taken the decision to make it a contractual requirement of our funding and I would stand by that. That said, everyone has been ASKED to pay it since 1999 I think.
      Going forward the SIF is going to be reviewed annually in line with RPI so the ceiling will go up although only marginally.

      But then, on a short, you’re really not talking about much money – I would refocus your energies particularly as, since you say, you have been a beneficiary.

      4 years ago
  • Do you think that the increase of writer/directors being funded across several schemes is fully representative of the standard of work being created from within the industry, when there are many writers who have no desire to add director to their role yet receive no funding?

    I'd personally like there to be more focus on writers where it isn't a stipulation of having a producer attached or directors signed up. It seems to be a hurdle when you're sole role is that of a writer.

    4 years ago
    • The NET.WORK will be able to work with emerging writers who have neither a producer or director attached, and we at the Film Fund will also work with writer/producer teams where the director has yet to be attached. However, the goal is to get your film made and at some point you will need a producer to move this forward, so we do require you to have a producer and in fact applications to the Film Fund must be made by a producer.

      I just did a quick tot up of the awards we have made in the past year and only 50% were writer/directors. We don’t place any particular emphasis on the writer/director in our schemes and often advise a filmmaker to settle on their strongest area.

      4 years ago
  • In 2004, BBC DG Mark Thompson said "Over time, I would welcome a chance to show more high quality British feature films and less poor quality American ones."

    He also said that "One of the questions we need to look at inside the BBC is whether £10m is enough a year (to support the British film industry) or whether we should provide a bigger role."

    Given that nearly 10 years after this statement the BBC only provides £12 million worth of funding, and that Channel 4 allocate £15 million, is the BBC supporting British film as much as it should?

    If not, how will you persuade the BBC to allocate more of its funds and more of its airtime to British films?

    news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/entertainment/film/3...

    4 years ago
    • I’m not entirely sure your numbers are accurate, but Tony Hall has made a recent firm commitment to BBC Films and as an incoming DG I think the way in which he has set out his priorities is encouraging. Mark Thompson’s comments were about the amount of airtime for film, and that is an area where of course we would welcome an uptick. His recent comments about the iPlayer become the fifth channel suggests to me that this might be the most likely home for British films…?

      4 years ago
  • Historically, some of the most commercially successful directors of UK films, such as Ken Loach and Peter Greenaway, make most of their money in European territories from 'art house' films.

    Should the BFI be aiming to get the UK to join Eurimages?

    4 years ago
    • We don’t have any current plans to join Eurimages, but we have said that we’ll look at it in the next few years. There are a number of obstacles to effective participation in Eurimages, and we think other features of the UK’s co-production landscape would need to be addressed before Eurimages membership could be effective. The cost of rejoining, estimated to be £3-3.5m, is also a factor, particularly when it is far from clear if regulations would allow this to come from the Lottery pot. Meanwhile we are still a big supporter of Ken Loach (we gave Jimmy’s Hall an award of £1m) and European distributors continue to “prebuy” his films, so he and his producer have not had any problems raising finance.

      4 years ago
  • Do you think that film festivals are still important for tracking new talent, particularly in the world of shorts. When it's so easy to see someone's work at the click of a button, is it still important for funders to take note of the non-virtual world of public screenings at the likes of Encounters or the London Short Film Festival? I hear filmmakers say they can't be bothered with film festivals any more as it takes time and effort, and many younger filmmakers working in on-line capacities don't know anything about film festivals.

    4 years ago
    • Sorry to butt in here Phil, but I'm sure the BFI can judge whether a short film's good or not without needing to have their opinions ratified by a festival audience. If nothing else, filmmakers are usually playing to a home crowd often with a large contingent of cast, crew, friends, family etc, so I'm not sure how an enthusiastic response from a 'public' screening necessarily endorses the merits of a filmmaker.

      Are you suggesting that your curation of the festivals your programme should form a sort of unofficial pre-selection process for the BFI's talent tracking?

      4 years ago
    • Phillip, I think they are as important as the collective experience for features. Not least because they enable the filmmaker to gauge audience reaction, and for the importance of the networking and sharing at a critical moment in a filmmaker’s career.
      We support Encounters in a number of ways and in fact we launched the NET.WORK there in September. We also support filmmakers travelling to festivals with their short films through a limited number of grants, in partnership with the British Council.

      4 years ago
  • Hello Ben,

    Do you have any advise you could give to young filmmakers, or to people who are just starting out in filmmaking?

    Thanks,

    Xenia

    4 years ago
    • Yes – I would emphatically say watch as many films as you can, and immerse yourself in the past 100 years of filmmaking. We seem to have lost the desire to educate ourselves this way, but I think its crucial, it will help you determine what type of a filmmaker you want to be and it informs the best work.

      You could do worse than to start with Mark Cousins’ epic The Story of Film

      4 years ago
  • even if you get the funding getting distro for an art film in the UK is horrendous. LUX have quite specific ideas about the kind of films they want so they are not a one size fits all distro organisation.

    4 years ago
  • Hi Ben

    I’d like to ask about distribution, especially for short films.

    As an Animator I know you have a particular fund, which is a good thing, as animators would really need a lot of funding if we felt we wanted to make a feature.

    However, many of us can make powerful, beautiful and challenging work that could have great appeal – but little opportunity to get them before a large audience. We make films for the world to see, that’s our mission. Your Distribution and Exhibition remit “to help films finding an audience and putting it at the centre of our cultural life”, caters exclusively for features.

    Your distribution reach is very wide in the UK, yet a live audience is the best test for any work. Would you support an initiative to screen new short work prior to features throughout UK cinemas, starting with the BFI. This is hardly a new suggestion, Virgin Shorts use this slot, and cinema-goers sit in the dark without a complaint for nearly half and hour before the main event.

    There are at least two opportunities here: Existing work, films made and sent by film-makers to festivals before being uploading onto Vimeo etc. for a niche audience could find a wider one; New work, a lively competition to encourage us to make something knowing it'll actually get screened. I think this more about leverage and will, and less about fighting over who get what from a small pot.

    Not new ideas, but I’d appreciate your thoughts, Clive

    4 years ago
    • Hi Clive – when I was distributing films at Metrodome we did try attaching shorts to features as a matter of course. The best experience we had was attaching Je T’Aime John Wayne (remember that?) to Lukas Moodysson’s TOGETHER. Unfortunately, it proved quite difficult to manage, as exhibitors were not on the whole that keen on the concept – it cut into ads and trailer time and they felt confused their audiences. The films also needed certificating, delivering, attaching to prints, some projectionists just removed them.. so I think it works better as an exhibitor driven exercise. I know that Picturehouse are very good at playing shorts.

      Without sounding defeatist, it has some practical problems beyond funding and has been tried before. Perhaps the BFI Player will be a useful channel.

      4 years ago
  • Hi Ben,
    How do does it feel having such an important role in deciding the Uk Film future with your decisions?

    4 years ago
    • It’s a great job and we are lucky to see so many projects and filmmakers coming through our doors. I get to read many of the most exciting projects at a formative stage, which is incredibly satisfying.
      The downside is a frustration that we can only support so much, and that we always risk making the wrong decisions. But I always say that if I make too many bad decisions, I’ll be rounded out and someone else can have a go.

      4 years ago
  • Hi Ben,

    On the BFI website - www.bfi.org.uk/film-industry/lottery-fun... it states -

    'As of August 2013, the Film Fund only accepts live-action, fictional feature film development applications from filmmakers who have already had a feature film produced and theatrically distributed.'

    Surely it should be the job of the film fund, in part anyway, to be encouraging emerging talent, by helping them achieve their first theatrical distribution?

    4 years ago
    • This notice is a response to the setting up of the NET.WORK – which is the new route to development funding for anyone who has yet to MAKE a feature. We still support the production and distribution of features from first-time directors, this only relates to development. Perhaps we need to make this notice clearer.

      In terms of distribution, actually we do have a new strand of funding called ‘New Models’ which anyone with distribution expertise or a partners or a strong distribution plan can apply into.

      I don’t agree that small distribution and marketing grants are the way to go and having worked in distribution for about 10 years I can tell you that it is much more harder to achieve impact than having a bit of money – expertise and relationships shouldn’t be underestimated in a world with so much media available across so many platforms..

      4 years ago
    • @Ben Roberts. Hi Ben. I agree with you. My point is more that independent film makers need help with getting a distribution deal. I know that when we have finished our current film - www.5greedybankers.com we'll have used most of our resources making it. You may say this is a failing but it is a reality for most of the independent producers I know.
      The distribution business is changing all the time and it's very difficult for a producer to know everything! For example my last film had a theatrical distribution through the ICA -but they no longer exist! A small injection (say £10k) would make a huge difference at this stage to help an independent producer secure a deal.
      I could give you a more detailed argument but I'm aware I'm taking up your time. But I do think it's something to consider.
      Thanks very much and Merry Christmas
      Simon

      4 years ago
  • Distribution is key! At the moment BFI only funds established distributors. But traditional distribution models are supposed to be breaking down - so could you open this up a bit please. Small distribution and marketing grants is where the money should go!
    Thanks Ben

    4 years ago
  • Ben, what are your top 5 Desert Island Flicks? In other words, the 5 films you couldn't live without.

    4 years ago
    • This doesn’t constitute my top 5 films (or even 5 films) but for comfort I would take:

      A Woody Allen double bill of MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY and LOVE & DEATH
      ET and the STAR WARS trilogy
      The two seasons of TWIN PEAKS
      BUGSY MALONE
      FRENZY, THE BIRDS and PSYCHO

      Sorry for cheating.

      4 years ago
  • I have no idea how to write this without it sounding like sour grapes! I work as a directing partnership with my best mate. We've worked together for years, ran our own production company and managed to build up a successful body of work in commercials, tv, music videos and sports shows. When it came to moving into drama no-one would even take a meeting. Eleven years of transferrable skills in production apparently count for nothing. Worse, directing as a partnership seemed to have been about the worst thing we could have put on our application. We just got bored of writing applications, raised the money ourselves and just got on with it. The test of it was that all the time spent working in production and the experience gained was got us through it.

    Two questions: When film is such a collaborative medium why did we find going in as a partnership such a no-no? (literally getting emails back such as 'We don't consider partnerships. We want to see a director's unique vision.)
    Secondly, does experience in production in general count in no way towards an application? I found it pretty sad that I couldn't even get a meeting with anyone.

    I'm not bitter about it, just curious.

    4 years ago
    • I don't think you sound bitter and I think to say that a directing partnership is necessarily lacking a "unique vision" is absurd. (Exit stage left the Coen brothers et al). If your work is creditable enough to merit it, which it certainly sounds like it is, then it's surprising that people don't at least take the trouble to meet you to understand how the partnership works.

      People may have some legitimate concerns about directing partnerships, but to be frank it sounds to me like one of those faddish things that people who are slightly insecure in their own judgement say.

      I often think the approach to film funding is a bit like a gold rush. At the moment, it seems like artists film and video is in vogue, but once they've bottomed out the talent in that field, or perhaps some significant time after they've bottomed out the talent, it will move elsewhere. Who knows, maybe directing partnerships will be flavour of the moment sometime soon?

      Well done on making your film anyway.

      4 years ago
    • Perhaps some of the problem is down to 'partnerships'in general. In an industry where budgets are 7-8 digits of real money, you need diligent accountability, an actual name you can point at to say 'that's the guy' when a decision needs making or things go wrong.

      Maybe people also feel (indeed I would be wary) that it could blow up on set. It's fine to have creative differences of course, but when you're burning £25k/day on location isn't the time to do that. Maybe you never have had differences, but adding the pressure of a budget plus tired and increasingly stressed and irrational people can make cracks grow. Maybe that's what happened with the last 5 directors partnerships they saw and they're jaded.

      The word also has a specific meaning in company law, HMRC are fully aware that the partnership structure is one of the most abused for tax shuffling, it makes people nervous. If you are a partnership maybe show that partnership as a proper legal entity. It means (very coarsely) becoming responsible for the debts of the other partner but it can present as a single corporate body for contracts etc.

      If it's more a case of friends working together but not wanting to commit further, perhaps alternate between lead and second unit director roles and credits on pitches? Accountability means dealing with a single name for a role is significantly easier. Large media events (and filming a feature is a kind of large media event) have almost military structures so at any moment production know exactly who is responsible for anything that may happen.

      4 years ago
    • Robin – difficult to respond without more context and I’m not sure who pushed back to you on supporting PARTNERSHIPS. We would absolutely support a partnership if the creative vision was strong and we felt confident in the filmmakers’ abilities based on their previous experience of telling stories in narrative work.

      To that end, production experience does count, but we are trying to ascertain who is strong in terms of storytelling and vision. We have just supported a film which has a director partnership and it’s in Sundance – 20,000 Days on Earth.

      4 years ago
  • I think there are some legitimate and obvious concerns about directing partnerships which you have mentioned, but some partnerships work very well and it's a shame if one with a proven track record is dismissed out of hand for this reason alone, without further enquiry.

    You could equally say that an established partnership between a director and producer could easily hit the rocks with catastrophic consequences.

    Is there perhaps a sense in what you are saying that the partnership might be working too well and thus threatens to gain the upper hand over the producer or the production executive appointed by the funders?

    Straying a bit off topic, I'm also assuming that the directing fee is the same and so directing partnerships have to split it between them and work for half the fee - as if it isn't alreay hard enough to earn a crust!

    4 years ago

Discussion closed